Saturday, September 26, 2009

People Watching

Can you remember when we all lived in the land of “Leave It To Beaver” and Mayberry?

If you can remember those simpler times – as depicted in TV Land – you’ll recall that many a lazy afternoon was spent sitting on the bench in front of Floyd’s barber shop… just watching the people of Mayberry amble about.

Those days are pretty much gone, mainly because Main Streets don’t seem to exist any more, at least not the kind of Main Street where people walked from store to store down the sidewalk. Main Street has been replaced by Wal-Mart and the mall. If you enjoy people-watching, as I do, nowadays you probably do it at the mall.

The first time I can really remember people-watching was in church when I was just a tot. At St. Peters Lutheran Church in Lexington, on the first Sunday of each month, the service included Communion, which involved every adult member of the church lining up, and easing their way to the altar in groups of a dozen or so. Since I was about five years old, I didn’t yet quite grasp the whole “forgiveness of sins” thing, so I focused on watching the people walk up to the front of the church… the same people, month after month, year after year. By the time I was seven, I could recognize everybody in the congregation.

And by the time I got to college, I had developed somewhat of a hobby out of people-watching. As I recall, I spent most of my entire sophomore year sitting on a bench in front of USC’s Russell House people-watching, instead of attending class.

Nowadays, as a sometimes-political consultant, it’s actually my job to watch people, and study their habits… except we call the people “voters”. Still, it’s people-watching, and I enjoy it.

Politicians, of course, need to do more than watch people. They need to walk up to them, introduce themselves, and shake their hands. Believe it or not, that talent doesn’t always come naturally for politicians. I often need to show them how to do it.

The problem, I think, is that we, as a society, don’t interface with each other as much as we used to. We may watch people, but we rarely talk to strangers.

Just as technology has evolved, so have our relationships with our neighbors. The coming of the automobile nearly a century ago made us more transient, and less likely to know our neighbors. A half-century ago, the innovation of back yards took us away from our front porches where we could see people walking by. And then, TV forced us indoors instead of outdoors, and air-conditioning made that move permanent. Now, for some people, the Internet is taking away any reason to EVER leave the house.

Consequently, many people find themselves more isolated than ever from actual human contact. And that’s a shame. It diminishes our quality of life.

One of the joys of being the publisher of community newspapers is the endless opportunity it gives me to meet new people. From my earliest forays into this business, back when I spent my days selling advertising, I considered it my job each day to go out and meet new friends. And I did!

In my freshman year of college – the year I actually attended classes – my sociology professor told of an informal experiment whereby you would show up early at the movie theatre, when only one couple had already taken seats, and proceed to take the seat immediately next to the seated couple… instead of any of the dozens of other rows which were empty. The reaction, of course, would always be awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes the original couple would move to different seats.

It’s a strange reaction, because, as animals, we are by nature drawn together, into tribes, much like herds of elephants, packs of wolves, flocks of geese, or schools of dolphins. But somewhere along the way, we seem to have erected some sort of artificial walls around ourselves.

While you might not be inclined to go out and just introduce yourself to new people willy-nilly, I would nonetheless encourage you to at least engage in healthy people-watching, which I figure is the next best thing: the mall, the zoo, at a ballgame, the beach or lake, on a cruise, tailgating, at a concert, the post office, at a flea market, or in a restaurant.

Or, if you can find one, on a bench in front of a barber shop on Main Street.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fun With Last Week’s Headlines!

Set a spell... take your shoes off. Let’s pause to have some fun with a few of the nation’s biggest headlines from the last week or so.

Headline: “Sanford says he won’t resign.” Over and over and over he’s said it. It’s actually getting boring, reading that same headline again and again. Of course he won’t resign himself. The state legislature is going to have to resign him. (Or make him an offer he can’t refuse… in whatever language they speak on his planet.)

Headline: “Williams outburst shocks nation.” Serena Williams, the professional tennis standout, shouted out inappropriately, stunning the viewing audience.

Headline: “Wilson outburst shocks nation.” Joe Wilson, our own Congressman from South Carolina, shouted out inappropriately, stunning the viewing audience.

I’m envisioning a new reality TV show, where Wilson and Williams travel around the country, bursting unannounced into solemn occasions and stately events. The point, each week, would be to guess which outburst we’ll see: Wilson’s “You Lie!”, or William’s “Guess Where I’m Gonna Put This Tennis Ball.”

When I first met Joe Wilson, he was the college advisor to the Teen Age Republicans, of which I was a member. We were both destined for politics, but at the time, the level of our involvement was selling donuts to delegates at the State Convention. As I recall, Joe taught us the phrase that pays: “Would you like to buy a box of donuts, please?” (Only now have I realized that our donut sales would have been vastly improved if I had refused to take rejection, but instead countered every polite “No, Thank You” with an explosive, in-your-face “You LIE!!!” Spontaneously, of course.)

Headline: “Leno’s new show premieres.” While it’s certain to be a hit, Jay still doesn’t have the edgy comedy of Letterman, who last week gave us: “Top Ten Joe Wilson Excuses.”

Headline: “Lack of vitamin D increases your risk of death.” That was the actual headline. But I don’t believe it. It may alter the time-table, but it doesn’t increase your risk of dying.

Headline: “Cash for Clunkers” etc., etc. Okay, so the program which required older cars to be traded in and junked probably jump-started the economies of the big automakers. But it really couldn’t have been very good for the 50,000+ small businesses devoted to automotive parts, maintenance, service and repair… and the employees who make their livings working on…. OLDER CARS!!!.

Headline: “Disneyworld to expand.” The Magic Kingdom, etc., etc., is doubling its size. I can’t wait to go back: That’s twice as many lines to stand in!!!

Headline: “Sharks invade Cape Cod.” This headline caught my attention, and when I saw the true-life “Jaws-like” TV news account, I was really shocked. What I saw was hard for me to believe: Those Yankee swimmers actually think that’s a real BEACH! (Don’t ever show them pictures of our Grand Strand.)

Headline: “All You Can Eat Buffet”. This was not a news headline…. It was a headline in an advertisement. But it caught my eye, as it does every time I see it. It’s as if I’m drawn to that particular phrase. I seem to take it as a personal challenge. I’m always like… “Oh, yeahhhh???? Well, we’ll just see about that!!!” Chomp, chomp, chomp. And 6 to 8 pounds later, the buffet always wins…. But at least it knows it was in a fight!!!

Headline: “Fun With Last Week’s Headlines.” Whoa!!! That’s weird... sorta freaky… like déjà vu all over again….like the twilight zone… a different time and place… a parallel dimension… a whole other world, a different galaxy.

And look! There’s the Governor!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wee all make misteaks!

It’s true. Wee all make misteaks! (Some of us, with more regularity than others.)

I learned a long time ago to admit my mistakes. I’m very good at it. I’ve had a lot of practice.

The last time I accidentally made a GOOD decision was in the ninth grade, when I accidentally signed up for typing class, instead of taking Latin, as had been recommended by my counselor. Oops. (But since I’ve pretty much spent the last 40 years typing words for a living, that mistake turned out okay.)
The earliest mistake I can remember is when I fell out of the car at four years old. I opened the door while the car was zooming down the highway. Oops!

The next few years were chock full of mistakes (and when I say “the next few” I actually mean “the next 51”.) A few stand out:
--The brushed suede tuxedo I wore to the prom in high school. Oops!
--Completely forgetting to go to any classes for an entire semester and flunking out of college my sophomore year. Oops!
--Forgetting to put anti-freeze in the 1954 Chevy. Oops!
--At 18 years old, casting half of my first-ever vote for Agnew. Oops!
--Selling my old Mustang convertible for $200. Oops!
--Forgetting to keep oil in the 1966 Ford Falcon. Oops!
--Forgetting where I left the used station wagon I had bought a month earlier, and never seeing it again. Oops!
--Leaving my little sister at a rest-stop on the Interstate Highway in Florida, and not missing her until about 60 miles later. Oops!
--Every time I have ever tried to cut my own hair or trim my own beard. Oops!

In my defense, during the same half-century I was making these mistakes, there were lots of other mistakes happening that I had absolutely nothing to do with. For instance,
--Leisure suits, Oops!
--Milli Vanilli. Oops!
--Pet Rocks. Oops!
--Pleather. Oops!
--Disco. Oops!
--Windows Vista. Oops!
--“Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”. Oops!
--Giving the Nobel Prize to Al Gore. Oops!

You will notice a lot of my mistakes have involved cars. Automotive mistakes are certainly among my top categories of mistakes. That’s because I know very little about cars. This is unfortunate, because a speeding automobile is one of the worst places to make a mistake. Recognizing my tendency to make mistakes, and my total lack of understanding of all things mechanical, I have taken steps to drastically reduce my car-related mistakes. I now drive 35 MPH everywhere I go, and my mistakes cause less damage.

To try to curb my other mistakes, I’ve categorized them into groups, and come to a major realization: I make more mistakes doing the things I do more often, and fewer doing the things I do less often. For instance, I make fewer mistakes during gardening, home repairs, aerobics, cooking, etc., because I don’t do ‘em much. (Actually, I do cook occasionally, which usually results in multiple mistakes… but I don’t even count mistakes with food. I figure that’s what ketchup is for!)

My most frequent mistake categories include

a) dressing myself, because I do it every day, which provides a lot of opportunities for errors. Oops!

b) listening and/or remembering: major goof-ups, multiple times per day. Oops!

c) Nigerian princes I met on the Internet! They are SO convincing. Oops!

d) song lyric mistakes, which occur every time I try to sing. (I have actually developed a method of hiding those mistakes, using a combination of humming and mumbling. It’s like ketchup for lyrics. Note: Yodeling does NOT work; it tends instead to accentuate the mistake. Oops!)

e) social graces; CRIPES!!!

f) Business and finance; you know, stuff like banking, investing, paying taxes, saving money, making profit. Oops! Oops! Oops! Uh Oh! Oops!

To top it off, I’m in the newspaper business. Each and every week, I publish pages and pages of words -- somewhere between an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 words each week… which means 150,000 to 250,000 chances for typographical errors each week. Oops!!!!

As I said earlier, I learned a long time ago to admit my mistakes. Last week was one of those mistakes, as it happens.

An advertisement contained a very minor error: There was nobody selling BBQ Porn for Labor Day.